Bad boss on the loose: how to handle an unprincipled manager

Oct 19, 2021

5 mins

 Bad boss on the loose: how to handle an unprincipled manager
Florence Abitbol

Journaliste indépendante et rédactrice de contenus

Not all managers are to be admired. Some take all the credit for your hard work, while others blame their team when they make mistakes. You can see them coming a mile away: they are the ones who dump their mess on your desk on a Friday evening. Or they put you on the spot in front of everyone during a meeting to cover up the fact they failed to finish a project on time? Let’s take a look at some bad bosses who seem willing to do just about anything to avoid taking responsibility.

At first you think it’s a one-off. So you decide to overlook it even as you promise yourself that you’ll set stricter boundaries next time. But then it happens again and again. You find yourself rescuing your manager from a crisis of their own making. The real problem is that they are more than happy to let you take all the blame. Never mind the fact that you’ve been flying blind for months. If things go wrong, it’s on you. Welcome to the world of morally bankrupt managers. This goes beyond petty bullying. These bad bosses have mastered the art of offloading their work onto their staff at the last minute and passing the buck when things go wrong. This particular type of high-level manipulator thrives in the corporate world.

Bad management, zero consequences

Pierre, a community manager for an online media company, has experience with this type of manager. “We were told to post a current events video that we didn’t feel good about. The subject was controversial, the person featured wasn’t portrayed in a very flattering way and the editing was just really biased,” he said. “In short, we could see it was going to be a complete mess.” Pierre and one of his team members took their concerns to their manager, who arrogantly insisted the content be published. Pierre’s colleague then wrote a simple and factual post in an attempt “to limit the collateral damage”. As the negative comments came pouring in, Pierre’s manager blamed it on the way the post was written. In other words, it was the fault of Pierre’s colleague. At the same time, this manager took all the credit when Pierre’s superb social media moderation boosted the company’s reputation.

On another occasion, Pierre went to his manager with a suggestion about a hot topic. He was refused, of course, but spotted his idea on the front page of a national newspaper the next day. Good or bad, it was clear to Pierre that his manager would never listen. Worse still, this boss had the habit of throwing others under the bus. But what did the rest of the team or the company think? It wasn’t seen as a problem. So Pierre has left but his manager remains at the company. “Everyone knows, but when you’re on a permanent contract, being cowardly isn’t cause for dismissal,” he said.

Alexane works in a press relations agency. Like Pierre, she has struggled with the confusion and stress caused by an irresponsible manager: “After barely a month in the company, I found myself organizing every aspect of important events, such as press days, setting up press corners and managing product deliveries in addition to welcoming professionals to the office. I had no clue what to do or which provider to contact.” To top it all off, Alexane’s manager regularly took credit for all that hard work. “I brought in stylists, managed all the appointments and did the shopping. Thanks to me, we met the publication deadline. But in meetings, she took all the credit,” said Alexane.

What do these stories have in common? These managers are never around when their staff need them, but they are great self-promoters when their own superiors are on the scene.“I think she wanted to do as little as possible and still get recognition. She was a pretty quiet person, as was I,” said Alexane. “So her poor management never came to light and I wasn’t about to make any waves.”

Management escape artists

For Angélique Bétinat, a consultant and professional coach working with managers and chief executives, most bad management boils down to “a lack of listening and communication. These are the types who don’t make an effort to even meet their teams.” But interpersonal dynamics and relationships in the workplace are part of a manager’s job. “A manager is supposed to be there for their team, helping them develop skills], giving work purpose and communicating how it is meaningful,” she said. So why do some people refuse to take on the responsibilities of their job? “Because they weren’t cut out for it,” she said. “Managers aren’t experts on specific tasks. They have to go into the field to better understand and get to know people. They also need to be agile and adaptable.” However, in most companies, a management position is still seen as a reward or promotion, the logical next step in any successful career. That’s not how Bétinat sees it. “Specialized skills don’t make you a good manager. It’s more about your soft skills, she said.

Managerial incompetence can also hide deep insecurities and fears. “The five motivators, which you learn at a young age, drive behaviors in the workplace. And when taken to the extreme, they can be really negative,” she said. “Until you identify your fears and drivers, you will be fearful, paralyzed or want to escape.”Those who give in to the fear of doing something wrong or of disappointing the team or their superiors, yet don’t take the trouble to listen to others are liable to become inept managers.

What’s the solution?

For a worst-case scenario, let’s hear from Lucas, who worked in the legal department of an insurance company. “Nobody ever worked together on files and everything was done on an individual basis,” he said. “My manager preferred talking in a corner of his office to actual meetings. As much as possible, he’d dump his work on others with minimal communication.” What’s more, the entire office dynamic transformed into a war zone. Lucas said, “He gave instructions as though they were direct orders and always insisted that the tasks were really important and urgent. Everything was emotional so that we were more likely to take responsibility until it just became a habit.” Lucas and another colleague stuck together in this time of crisis and built a strong bond that lasted long after their manager had resigned.

Some manipulative managers use psychology to exploit your weaknesses. If that happens, consider sharing your feelings with them, talking to HR if possible and seeing an occupational psychologist or counselor. When your mental health takes a hit, “it’s time to get out,” said Bétina. If your situation isn’t yet critical, observe managers in other departments to see if yours is an exception. This was not the case for Alexane. She said, “There was a system of solidarity firmly in place, and most of the other managers also dumped their tasks and responsibilities on their staff.”

When it involves bad practice, this kind of herd behavior can cause great suffering in the workplace. Although it’s not always easy, it might be best to walk away. And if you are in a position to hire managers, remember that prevention is better than cure. For Bétina, the recruitment phase is essential. She suggests hiring through your HR department or outsourcing it to a specialist firm “in order to have the most diverse team possible” and to avoid amassing a swarm of deadbeat managers.

Translated by: Andrea Schwam

Photo by Welcome to the Jungle

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